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Walking on Water
First SLIS Ph.D. graduates meet high expectations

by Meara Keegan

Six years, two students, countless faculty and staff, and plenty of blood, sweat and tears later and the moment finally arrived. On May 4, 2012, Dr. Clayton Copeland and Dr. Christine Angel became the first students to graduate from the School of Library and Information Science Ph.D. program. Dr. Samantha Hastings, SLIS director, jokes, “The requirements for completing this program are to first walk on water.” For Dr. Copeland and Dr. Angel, though, this may not have been too far from the truth.

The challenge of starting a doctoral program and bringing it to fruition is a difficult challenge. Dr. Dan Barron, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former director of SLIS, and Dr. Bob Williams, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, did the groundwork for the program. The first doctoral students were admitted to the program in 2006, the same year Dr. Hastings arrived.

It was fate that first landed Dr. Copeland in the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of South Carolina. When she began to look at master’s programs, memories of her own school librarians, Ellen Ramsey and Vicky Culbertson, flooded back to her. “They are both graduates of the MLIS program and always shared their love for the school and its faculty with me.”

The school’s reputation and academic rigor are what first brought her into the MLIS program. While she was earning her master’s degree, she says she “developed a deep respect and love for the school and its community.” Her decision to continue her education in the new doctoral program came after forming a relationship with Dr. Hastings.

Dr. Copeland says, “I have such immense respect for our faculty and staff, and for Dr. Hastings. With great debt to her vision, we have a program that is incredible in every way.” The doctoral program has provided great opportunities for Dr. Copeland and her peers. “We have attended and presented research at national and international coferences.”


 A Conversation with Dr. Clayton Copeland

Dr. Copeland’s dissertation, Equity of Access to Information: A Comparative Exploration of Library Accessibility and Information Access from Differently-Able Patrons’ Perspectives, focuses on how consistent the availability of information is for differently-able compared to typically-able library users. Her research analyzes whether the information available to each participant is unbiased and equal. She has accepted a post-doctoral fellowship with SLIS, where she will work in the areas of program development and evaluation.

As a captain in the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Angel is no stranger to hard work. While she worked toward her doctoral degree, she also was an aircraft maintenance officer at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C. Although she planned to graduate from the program last year, deployment with the military temporarily derailed those plans. While her dedication to the military delayed her completion of the program as planned, Dr. Angel has not wavered in her commitment to her career after graduation. She has accepted a faculty position at St. John’s University in New York City.

Dr. Angel has a great passion for library and information studies now, but she first earned a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and a Master of Science in instructional technology from East Carolina University, and then a Master of Science in library science from North Carolina Central University. Her first years as a doctoral student at USC brought some struggles, as “she had to find her footing,” she says.

Dr. Angel considers herself an anthropologist with a passionate interest in semiotics and wanted to bring these studies to the world of library and information science. Her dissertation incorporated her fondness for anthropological studies, her passion for library and information science and her interest in Native American culture.

Dr. Angel’s research, A Comparison of Descriptive Tagging Practices by Library, Archive, and Museum Professionals using an Inter-Indexing Consistency Approach, explores the descriptive tagging and online digital collections among information professionals working in library, archive and museum institutions.


A Conversation with Dr. Christine Angel

A website developed as part of her dissertation research allowed information professionals worldwide to view images of randomly selected digital artifacts, including some Catawba Native American artifacts, and describe those objects using descriptive tags.

The future of this program is bright. Another 10 doctoral students have entered the program since the original cohort. With less than eight percent of the U.S. population earning doctoral degrees, these students are truly in an elite club. For two of them, May 5 marked the beginning of their professional lives and their time to affect change.

Meara Keegan is a senior public relations major from Atlanta, Georgia. She wrote this article for the Spring 2012 issue of InterCom, the alumni publication of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.

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